If you’ve ever led a Bible study or a small group in your church or in your home, you probably know what I’m talking about. And if you’ve ever participated in a Bible study or a small group someone else has led, there’s a good chance you’ve done this, or you know of others who have.
Have you experienced this? Women who start your group with gusto but end up leaving (aka disappearing) before the study or semester officially ends?
It’s a real thing. And it’s not just the leader who feels it. The other women attending feel it too, when they look around and realize they’re one of six still coming, and they’re thinking to themselves… where did everyone else go? And why didn’t they tell ME so I could go with them?
Let’s call this frustrating but so very common phenomenon Small Group Shrink. Retailers use the word shrinkage for inventory that gets lost, usually from theft by employees or customers. If you work in the retail loss prevention field, a large part of your job is to keep shrinkage as small a number as possible.
So as a Bible study or small group leader, how do you stop Small Group Shrink from impacting your group?
After all, inviting women to sign up for a new Bible study or a new semester of a small group is usually pretty easy. There’s something exciting about starting something new. Women like connecting with other women.
Keeping that connection going, and women coming, however, is much, much harder.
It’s too easy to blame busy schedules as the only reason women stop coming to your group. Let’s face it – as women, we make time for what’s important to us. We make time for what we enjoy. We make time for what we’re convinced we can’t do without.
So it’s not really as much about being busy as it is about being motivated.
5 Reasons Women Quit Small Groups Too Soon
Until we understand the reasons for why women quit small groups, we can’t take the necessary actions to encourage and motivate them to stay. Here are five.
1. They don’t connect.
I believe one of the biggest responsibilities we have as leaders in women’s ministry is to make sure we’re providing opportunities for women to connect and get to know other women.
Now if you read what I just wrote, you might say that no, women’s ministry isn’t about connecting women to other women, it’s about connecting women to God. And you’d be right.
But I’m also not wrong.
Women are wired for connection with others. So if we want women to know God, then let’s give them opportunities to know each other too.
I LOVE teaching God’s Word to other women and I love seeing women grow from what they’ve learned in studying the Bible and seeing their walks with God deepen as a result. But those moments rarely happen unless a woman feels comfortable just being in a group in the first place.
Are you giving the women in your group enough time to come and settle in with each other before you take them for a deep dive into theology and doctrine? Are you providing opportunities for your ladies to get to know each other as friends through simple ice breakers, casual refreshments or other activities before you ask them to share their most intimate thoughts about their faith?
Establishing true connections for your small group members can’t be forced, but it can be greatly helped. Keep the connection going and you’ll be far less likely to see any disconnects.
2. They don’t feel noticed.
This one is a personal mission of mine, probably because I’ve been in this situation far too many times myself, as I write about here.
Women’s ministry can be such a mixed bag of personality, background, and first impressions, can’t it? And we women, especially, are notorious for sizing others up too quickly or being so concerned about what others are thinking about us that we can completely overlook another woman’s need for a welcoming smile or a warm greeting, just so she knows that she is seen.
I believe one of the quickest and easiest lies the enemy starts to whisper to a woman involved in a Bible study is that no one will miss her if she doesn’t go. No one will notice. No one will say anything. So what’s the point of even trying?
This is why I think it’s so important to make the effort and ensure every woman feels like she’s been seen and heard each time your group meets. Of course, this doesn’t mean putting each woman on the spot in front of a group, especially if your group is large in number. That can have the same effect as not noticing someone, and send an introvert back to the safety of the four walls of her home faster than you can say “What’s your name?”
But helping a woman feel noticed can be as simple as making sure a volunteer is stationed at a table to help find her nametag and greet her by name and asking a quick question on how her day or week has gone.
Not all women feel comfortable speaking or sharing when a group gets larger than 10, so you can also help a woman feel noticed by including some time each week for breakout groups. Divide your ladies into smaller groups of 3 or 4 to answer questions or share thoughts on a scripture or topic that’s part of the bigger discussion.
3. They get bored.
You may think your messages or lessons are extremely exciting and interesting but if you’re the only one who talks, and you offer no opportunities for your group to discuss what they’re learning, you may find yourself the only one in the circle.
It’s a fine balance when it comes to planning how you’re going to engage your group so you have their attention, but it’s not impossible. Get to know your group and you’ll learn more quickly what kind of range your group has when it comes to church experience, Bible knowledge, and even attention spans. Talk over their heads and you’ll lose them. Talk beneath them, and you’ll still lose them. Offer them solid points that engage them and feel relevant to them, truths that challenge them and make them want to grow, and you’ll keep them.
4. They feel left out.
This fourth reason is particularly true for groups that have had some time to become established. You’ve been leading your group for awhile and you have a great core group of ladies who come. Some of them, if not all of them, are also your good friends. You’ve been on retreats or trips together, you have a ton of funny stories and memories you enjoy reliving, and more than a few inside jokes.
So where does that leave your new ladies?
If you want to keep your small group strong in attendance and in growth, then take care that your core doesn’t turn into a clique.
One of the best ways to avoid this is to remind your core members on a frequent basis how important it is that all of you reach out to those women who may be new, or might not know everyone as well.
Notice certain groups of ladies who always sit together? Then change that tendency for the comfortable and have a table or chair “toss.” Ask everyone to sit with people they haven’t sat next to before (or assign seats for even better mixing and mingling results).
Feeling left out doesn’t only come from feeling like you’re not inside a certain circle of friends. It can also come from not feeling like you fit with the same background, or experience or knowledge as others around you.
So be careful that you don’t assume and say “I know everyone already knows the story of David so we won’t say much about it.” There’s always a chance someone in your group doesn’t – but you’ll never know that if you tell them you assume they should, and you’ll miss an important teaching opportunity and moment of deeper understanding.
Don’t assume everyone has grown up in church or is the same denomination as you, either. I remember sitting in a church service once where the speaker said, “Now I know we’re all good Southern Baptists who have been going to church for a long time…”
I could think of at least 5 families sitting in the congregation right then who I knew were either fairly new Christians and new to church completely, or they had grown up in a completely different faith or denomination. Those words, as much as they were probably intended to be inclusive, instead came across as extremely exclusive. We’d be wise to avoid them in our groups too.
5. They forget the purpose.
Finally, I think one of the biggest reasons women give up on a small group or a small group study before it’s through is that the leader stops communicating why everyone is there in the first place.
We are forgetful human beings with too many distractions and too many pressures and responsibilities pulling on us. It’s easy to forget why we signed up for a certain group. That’s why, as a leader, it’s so important for you to remind your group of why you’re meeting and what you’re there to do and what you want them to get out of your time together.
Call it vision, mission, or take-away, but you need one to help you teach well and your group needs one to help them engage well. So use one. Keep your value statement simple and easy to remember so it’s simple to repeat and actually worth repeating.
Also, while we’re on the subject of purpose, part of establishing the purpose of a group is also including the time-frame and parameters of how long your group will meet.
As I wrote at the beginning of this post, women are super busy people. Give them clear expectations of how long your group will last (6 weeks? 3 months?) and offer encouragement as you get closer to the finish line. Remind them of the value they’ve already received from the early weeks and what’s ahead for them in the time that remains.
There’s nothing that makes me sadder to hear about a group that started strong but ended in a struggle. The reasons above are just a few of my thoughts on why it can happen.
Do you agree? Have you seen similar situations in your own groups? What else would you add?